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Album Spotlight: Richard Bennett’s 'Ballads in Otherness'

Travel through time with this master of twang.

Richard Bennett

Ballads in Otherness

A studio veteran with thousands of sessions to his credit, Richard Bennett is also an ace producer and Mark Knopfler’s longtime guitar foil. But to instrumental guitar fanatics, he’s the keeper of the flame for a style of guitar music that’s been largely forgotten. It emerged in the late ’50s as electric guitar and stereo vinyl first gained popularity, and—until it was swept away by the British Invasion—permeated movie soundtracks and TV themes. For a refresher course, check out Tony Mottola’s Mr. Big (1959) and Al Caiola’s Golden Hit Instrumentals (1961). These guitarists had serious jazz chops, yet embraced twang and tremolo, and made LPs using cutting-edge studio technology of the time.

Which brings us back to Bennett’s Ballads in Otherness. Echoes of these greats, as well as Duane Eddy and the Shadows’ Hank Marvin, resound in the album’s 13 originals. The tunes evoke saguaro, chaparral, and wide-open roads—the call of the West half a century ago. But for me, the most compelling aspect of Bennett’s music is his gift for writing memorable melodies and executing them with ringing, old-school tones and impeccable technique, whether on electric 6-string or sweet steel guitar.

Ballads in Otherness is also filled with superb chord-melody playing—another skill that’s on the brink of extinction. “Al Casey was my good friend and mentor,” Bennett says of the Wrecking Crew guitarist, “my entree into the Hollywood studio world of the swinging ’60s. He opened my ears to people like Barney Kessel, Howard Roberts, and Johnny Smith. The chord-solo pieces are my nod to those guitarists.”

Bennett is a time traveler, bringing vintage instrumental guitar into the 21st century. If you lived through that earlier era, Ballads in Otherness will take you back. But if you’ve never absorbed these sounds, it makes a fabulous introduction.

Must-hear tracks: “Come Summer’s Sun,” “Eye for Hire,” “This Love Remembered”